Fashion

The desire for a stripped back ‘uniform’ may speak to a catastrophic future but, it’s more about saving the present by simplifying choices and consuming less. By Alyx Gorman.

Fashion labels Ten Pieces and SZN

A SZN design.
Credit: ERYCA GREEN

Consumer desire has taken an apocalyptic turn. Large, androgynous T-shirts with Gothic lettering – a hark back to the heavy metal tees of the ’90s and early 2000s, but with prices several hundred per cent higher – have lured snaking queues of shoppers to pop-up stores around the world. The chief proponent is Kanye West, who attracted lines of hundreds at his short-lived Melbourne and Sydney “Life of Pablo” pop-ups last year.

These shapeless shirts, with their graphic lettering, are often worn with combat-ready tracksuit pants. Once again, West is the most visible advocate. His fashion line for Adidas, Yeezy, turns out Walking Dead-ready crossbreeds between activewear and Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto’s decades-old brands of Gothic luxury.

The darkness has also seized Australia. You’ll find it in obvious strongholds, such as Melbourne’s inner north, but also creeping across the creamy sand of Bondi Beach.

The flag-bearer for this oversized, androgynous and largely monochromatic look does not consider himself a designer. Most would consider him a serial restaurateur, or entrepreneur. Maurice Terzini is the owner of Bondi’s Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, pizzerias Da Orazio in Bondi and Da Maria in Bali, and the made-over Surry Hills pub The Dolphin. On top of these hospitality concerns is Ten Pieces, a label comprising outsized cotton T-shirts, hoodies, loose shorts and tracksuit pants, which Terzini runs with his girlfriend Lucy Hinckfuss. Hinckfuss studied fine arts at RMIT before entering the fashion industry. The brand, in its current incarnation, launched in spectacular fashion at Icebergs during Australian Fashion Week in 2015. They drained the Icebergs pool and had the models pose inside it, between the black lane lines. It was unseasonably warm that day, and the white pool shimmered against the waves and blue sky.

In Hinckfuss and Terzini’s hands, the sporty Bondi look has turned survivalist – like a cartoon mugger, or Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. “Lucy’s a really good artist, and I’m good at silhouettes,” Terzini says. “We have a strong aesthetic of what we like ... based on the influence of parkour and punk. Not so much skating or surfing. More French and Italian street culture.”

At the time of writing, it is two weeks until Ten Pieces’ third Australian Fashion Week presentation – it will be back at Icebergs, on May 18, but this time upstairs and lower key – and Terzini is sipping a glass of orange wine in a not particularly quiet corner of The Dolphin Wine Room. The staff are all wearing Ten Pieces, although they’ve customised each garment themselves. Terzini is, too. He’s drinking slowly because, for the past 26 days, he’s been without alcohol, resetting his body under the supervision of a doctor in Bali. It has brought a sense of order to a chaotic time, where the needs of his four restaurants, his label and his three-year-old son do not always form an orderly line.

As the name suggests, Ten Pieces clothing drops in batches of 10. They arrive outside the seasonal cycle. “It’s not about spring/summer autumn/winter,” Terzini says. “It’s just 10 pieces. We can do it whenever we want.” The clothes retail online, and in a small shop connected to Terzini’s Bali restaurant – “we’ve decided to call it a ‘shop’, not a boutique. It’s more honest.” You can also buy Ten Pieces from other retailers, although Terzini is less passionate about wholesaling. It’s good for cash flow in the short term, but “we don’t have to wholesale forever, you know?”

Each Ten Pieces garment comes with a number, indicating its place in the brand’s canon. The fashion week show will display 10/41 to 50. “I’ve got everything, you know, 20 pairs of Rick [Owens] shoes … They’ve been sitting there for years. We’re all victims of fashion. A bunch of wankers,” Terzini explains of his choice to winnow down his offering. “It was all about simplifying life and making things not as serious.”

Unlike Yeezy or Rick Owens, however, Ten Pieces’ entire range is priced between $95 and $160. “I like that it can be accessible and disposable. I like that it’s not too precious.” Rick Owens is a particular inspiration for Terzini, but it’s the mood he’s interested in. Terzini wants to make clothing lots of people can afford to wear. “We’re not fucking curing cancer. We’re making T-shirts and tracksuit pants and some really good hoodies.”

He gestures to his own outfit – a long-lined black singlet and loose black tracksuit pants with a stripe of leatherette down the thigh, worn with the waistband twisted, so they look like fisherman’s pants. “I can come here and then I can go to dinner with it, or I can go clubbing with it, or I can dress it up. I just need to change the jacket, but the core essence of the outfit and the mannerism [stay the same].” Although the outfit could just about be pyjamas, the way his garments drape and flow is elegant, almost formal. It shatters ordinary conceptions of dress code.

“For me I’m searching for my perfect uniform. I’m getting closer and closer to it.”

Suzan Dlouhy, founder of five-year-old Melbourne label SZN, is also trying to create clothes “I would personally want to wear as a … uniform”. A former public servant who studied environmental management and policy before coming to fashion, Dlouhy’s collections are even smaller than 10 pieces – usually she’ll show between four and eight. She works with a single maker, and still creates one-off garments on a personal sewing machine. Scarcity is a central theme.

Each collection explores a different method of waste-reduction, from remaking second-hand clothes to using scraps left over by other fashion brands. Lately, she’s been working with organic cotton, trying to create patterns that use textiles as efficiently as possible. She’s “driven by process, not an aesthetic … I try and do everything to reduce it to its most simple form.” Yet the end point fits comfortably within the same dark aesthetic. “Often [my process] leaves you with a big voluminous shape. Sometimes … I’ve been so simplistic or minimal.” She talks about cutting things down, simplifying patterns. “I’ll realise, ‘Is that not … a pair of light drop-crotch pants just like ancient Indian garb? Did I just design myself back into a traditional garment?’ ”

As for her uniform, she avoids anything that clings to the underarms, “so I could wear it multiple times before I wash it”. She gravitates to “things that were black, so they didn’t look … dirty immediately”. For Dlouhy, reducing “laundry is a big factor in sustainability”.

In her runway shows, Dlouhy casts models “based on who they are” not their gender. With a background in one-off pieces, SZN’s output remains one-size-fits-most. Now mother to a four-month-old baby, she found “the fact that I could wear the same garment from the beginning to the end of my pregnancy was actually really good. I became my own test model for that size range.” Terzini’s take on gender is just as loose: “There’s no such things as women’s and men’s, in a way … the world is a bit freer, and a bit more loving these days.”

For both Dlouhy and Terzini, clothes are about grappling with the future. “The more conceptual you get … the further away from reality and the body shapes you get … you’re no longer trying to echo what the body can wear but looking at future ideas,” Dlouhy says.

“My father was a socialist,” Terzini muses. “I grew up in that sort of environment.” This, and his early contact with the Melbourne punk scene, shaped his ethics, as well as his aesthetics. “As much as I respect my heritage and what I’ve been through … I’m future focused. [Streetwear] feels like a good communication with what’s happening out there … with what’s current.”

At present, Dlouhy teaches sewing at The Social Studio in Melbourne to supplement her label. She also DJs for income – something Sydney fashion designers typically do for credibility, not cash. Ultimately, she would like SZN to become a full-time job. But making one’s output sustainable and one’s business sustainable are two very different challenges.

Though Terzini doesn’t depend on Ten Pieces for income, it’s a problem that concerns him, too. Many in his social circle, and his best patrons, work in fashion. He has seen close friends and an ex-girlfriend go out of business. “I’ve seen so many fashion business models collapse, so we decided we wanted to form a model that would not go through that. We’ve been going for three years and we have no debt … We could design Ten Pieces in the restaurant if we needed to. When those 10 are gone, they’re gone.”

The irony, and beauty, of the end-of-the-world aesthetic coming back into fashion is that, for those who first dreamt it up in the 1980s, and their contemporary disciples, the style is about ending the cycle of fashion. Each collection bleeds back into the previous, and forward into the next. Visually, it speaks to a catastrophic future, but conceptually it’s about saving the present. This style asks us to shatter the gender binary. It asks us to consume less. To develop a simple, personal “uniform”. Fashion has taken an apocalyptic turn. Perhaps we’re trying to imagine this future in order to prevent it.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 13, 2017 as "Easy pieces". Subscribe here.

Alyx Gorman
is The Saturday Paper’s fashion editor.